Hello. I’m Gavin Edwards, the public speaker and the New York Times-bestselling author of The Tao of Bill Murray, the ’Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy series, and Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever. If you’re interested in hiring me, click here for more information.

Ranking Roger

Congratulations to Roger Deakins, who won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography last night for his work on 1917! (It was his second Oscar, after Blade Runner 2029 in 2017, both of which followed thirteen nominations without a trophy across two decades.) I was rooting for him, not just because he’s amazingly gifted, but because I know from personal experience that he’s a total gentleman.

I visited Deakins and his wife in their Santa Monica home back in 2011, to write a magazine article pegged to the release of Skyfall (also directed by Sam Mendes, the man behind 1917—maybe what 1917 needed to get over the top was an Adele theme song?). Due to a page crunch in a special “Inspirations” issue, the article never ran in full (a small piece of it got excerpted in a New York Times blog) so I am pleased to present it here at last for your reading pleasure.

When Sam Mendes signed on as director of Skyfall, the twenty-third installment of the James Bond series, he immediately knew who he wanted to shoot the film: Roger Deakins, nine-time Oscar nominee. Deakins has been working steadily as the Coen brothers’ cinematographer for two decades, filming most of their movies from Barton Fink onward with fluid wit and a gift for epic tableaux, whether it’s the barren landscapes of True Grit or the improbably elongated boardroom tables of The Hudsucker Proxy. “He’s the best cinematographer in the world,” said Mendes, who had collaborated with Deakins on Revolutionary Road and Jarhead. He believed they had that “level of trust and telepathy” the director-cinematographer relationship requires. The only problem? Deakins wasn’t particularly interested in shooting a Bond movie.

“It wasn’t really my genre at all,” Deakins explained. As a teenager in 1960s England, he had seen some of the Sean Connery Bond pictures, but his taste had inclined towards the European directors and Sam Peckinpah. And although he’s shot Hollywood films from A Beautiful Mind to The Shawshank Redemption, he had never made an action movie. So Mendes flew to Santa Monica and took Deakins for a walk on the beach, detailing the story of Skyfall. “We’re going to make a movie, not a Bond movie,” Mendes told him. Once Deakins understood the project as a human story rather than a pyrotechnic spectacle, he joined the crew.

Aside from the basic responsibility of recording action on film, a cinematographer lights the sets and serves as a sounding board and visually intuitive foil for a movie’s director. “My job,” Deakins said, “is to bring my eyes.”

“He’s an incredibly gentle and shy man,” Mendes said. “Deeply private and so not interested in wanting you to like him.” If Deakins offered you a glass of water, Mendes opined, that would signify you were his best friend.

On a recent Friday afternoon, the 63-year-old Deakins opened the door to his Santa Monica home, barefoot and white-haired. “Would you like some water?” he volunteered, indicating either his good manners or a newfound interest in making best friends. On his patio, Deakins folded his lanky frame into a wooden deck chair and discussed the different techniques he used for Skyfall‘s action sequences. Although he employed handheld cameras at some points, he disdains the recent vogue for jittery faux-verite footage that looks like “some documentary operator is trying to grab a shot. I hate that stuff. It doesn’t do anything for me, probably because I shot documentaries for years. I look at it and think, That’s just bad operating.”

Skyfall puts a real-world spin on some Bond traditions, including the tropical island lair. The secret headquarters of the villain Silva (played by Javier Bardem), is based on Hashima Island, an abandoned coal-mining island off the coast of Japan. After a scout photographed it, the production not only incorporated that research into its sets, but used some of the pictures as CGI backdrops. For those sequences, Deakins also drew on a visit he made to Pyramiden, a former Soviet coal-mining city that has been a ghost town since 1998. Getting there required a ten-hour snowmobile ride. “It’s like they walked away yesterday,” Deakins said, and explained an abrupt economic crash with a visual metaphor. “In the hotel, the tables are still laid.”

Skyfall might be the least globe-trotting Bond production ever. Aside from a few weeks in Turkey, all of its 130 shooting days were in and around London. Bardem, who knew Deakins from No Country for Old Men, joked with him about how instead of filming in exotic locations, they had somehow ended up in the Charing Cross tube station. But London had its own technical challenges, Deakins said: “On any film, even a big-budget movie, you’re struggling with the weather.” In this case, in an only-in-England twist, that meant lots of sunny days when he expected steely gray skies.

For many scenes in far-flung locations–Bardem’s island, the waterways of Shanghai–the production constructed elaborate sets at Pinewood Studios outside London. For a sequence where Bond tracks down an assassin in a Shanghai office building, the filmmakers scouted real Chinese skyscrapers but built a substitute they nicknamed “the jellyfish.” This allowed for some improvements, including making every wall, floor, and ceiling out of glass. “It’s like a hall of mirrors,” Deakins said. He lit the scene with two enormous LED panels, representing electronic billboards outside the office’s windows. The drawback: “Because it was all glass, the crew walking through it kept bashing into things,” Deakins said. He grinned; much of a cinematographer’s work is invisible, although usually not as hazardous. “Every now and then you’d hear ‘Ugh!’ Oh dear, Sam’s hit his head again.”

posted 10 February 2020 in Articles, Unpublished. no comments yet

Bill Murray Update

It’s been over three years since the publication of The Tao of Bill Murray, my book about the philosophy and adventures of America’s prankster god. Delightfully, Bill Murray has continued in his spontaneous ways since then.

The holiday season brought a couple of sightings of Bill in airports: one on Christmas Eve where he had a warm chat with a total stranger, gave her advice on when to get some sun while she was in Florida (between 6 am and 8 am) and ended the whole encounter with a big hug.

Eleven days later, he got on another plane, carrying a box of pizza, and handed out slices to all the passengers around him. Jenny Lawson (“The Bloggess”), whose husband witnessed the event, said, “I told Victor to invite him home for lunch… then I remembered all I have are Atkins bars and ramen but it didn’t matter because they were both catching different connections in Houston.”

Also! Breaking news, albeit two and a half years after the fact!

Via my good friend Joey X, I just got a report of Bill’s antics in the Nevada desert at the Burning Man festival:

“2017, Bill Murray went to the burn and gave out hot dogs at the gate for burners coming in. My pal André got one and the wrapper was signed.”

Photographic evidence, courtesy of André:

Happy new year, Bill.

posted 13 January 2020 in News. no comments yet

Two Remarkable Women

This past week, I had obituaries printed in The New York Times for two very different, very accomplished women: Marie Fredriksson and Rose Mackenberg.

Marie Fredriksson was one-half of Roxette, the Swedish pop group that was intensely successful in the United States between 1989 and 1991; she died on Monday after a long illness. I shared the byline with Iliana Magra, a Times reporter based in London. “Swedish critics said we’d never make it, but they were wrong,” Fredriksson said in 1990.

Rose Mackenberg died in 1968; she was a professional debunker of phony psychics whose work led her to collaborate with Harry Houdini and to testify before the United States Congress. She was also described as a “ghost-buster” decades before I imagined that word was ever used. The article was part of the exceptional “Overlooked” series at the Times, edited by Amy Padnani.

Inspirational wisdom from Mackenberg, circa 1949: “I smell a rat before I smell the incense.”

posted 13 December 2019 in Articles. no comments yet

Holiday Shopping: How to Buy a Signed Copy of One of My Books

So you want to buy a copy of one of my books for a loved one in the upcoming holiday season? Well, I’d certainly recommend that: I’ve got twelve books now, one of which is certain to be perfect for somebody on your list. (I’m particularly partial to my latest, Kindness and Wonder, but it may be that you know someone who’s a big fan of Bill Murray (in which case you might treat them to The Tao of Bill Murray) or Tom Hanks (The World According to Tom Hanks) or River Phoenix (Last Night at the Viper Room) or surrealist drawing games (The Beautiful Book of Exquisite Corpses).)

You can buy my books at your local bookstore (my favorite option!), or at major retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or Powell’s. If, however, you want a copy that’s been signed and inscribed by me, your best bet is to call up my local bookstore, Park Road Books in Charlotte, North Carolina. They will be happy to sell you one or more of my books and ship them to you (or anywhere else in the world you like)—and before they send them out, I will swing by the store with a Sharpie and personalize them.

The phone number for the good people of Park Road Books is 704-525-9239, or you can reach them via orders@parkroadbooks.com. They also have a store dog, Yola, who has become something of a local celebrity, but I can’t promise they’ll put Yola on the phone.

If you want a personalized copy (not just signed) to arrive before Christmas, please make your order by Thursday, December 12th, to allow sufficient time for shipping. And whatever holiday you celebrate this winter, I hope it is filled with joy and light.

posted 24 November 2019 in Buy My Stuff. 1 comment

Thank You, Cary Regional Library!

On Sunday afternoon, I visited the Cary Regional Library in Cary, NC, which opened only a few weeks ago—it still has that new-library smell. (And it’s apparently been a huge hit: they had thousands of visitors on opening day. Kudos!)

I was there to read from Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever, and I had such a great time with the large, lively crowd (lots of smart questions afterwards, plus somebody who had met Fred Rogers!), I wanted to put up a few photos of the event for posterity.

Me, striving to better explain Fred Rogers’ philosophy through the magic of hand gestures.
Roughly a hundred people in the room, raising their hands to signify that they had spent time in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
General merriment with Amy Whitfield of the Cary library!

If you live in Wake County in North Carolina, I strongly recommend that you pay the Cary Regional Library a visit—it’s a gem.

posted 19 November 2019 in Outside. no comments yet

Top Five Songs with “Disco” in the Title That Aren’t Actually Disco

There are many many great disco songs that name-check the genre in the title, and then as often as possible during the song itself, so you don’t forget that you are getting down to a disco beat. But what of those songs that evoke disco so they can hit a less-exuberant emotional note?

  1. Pulp, “Disco 2000”
  2. Stereolab, “French Disko”
  3. St. Vincent, “Slow Disco”
  4. Yo La Tengo, “Last Days of Disco”
  5. Morrissey, “The National Front Disco”

(Honorable mention to Surf Curse’s recent entry “Disco,” but not to the Who’s benighted “Sister Disco.”)

posted 18 November 2019 in Tasty Bits. 1 comment

Library Visit: Cary, North Carolina

Hello citizens of North Carolina, specifically those in the Research Triangle area, and even more specifically those in the town of Cary!

I will be coming to your fair metropolis tomorrow and visiting the brand-new (and by all accounts, gorgeous) library. Let’s format that conveniently:

Sunday, November 17 (2 pm) / Cary

Cary Regional Library: 315 Kildaire Farm Road, Cary, NC, 27511. The event is free but they request preregistration: click here to go to the event page.

I will be reading from Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever, fielding questions of all stripes, and doing super-excellent spontaneous stuff that will make this your favorite Sunday of the year. Books will be available for purchase before and after the event, and I will be happy to sign them and personalize them. Bring your friends–I hope to see you there!

posted 16 November 2019 in News. no comments yet

Kindness and Wonder: Some Interviews

In the wake of the release of Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters More Than Ever, I have been doing interviews about Mister Rogers, his neighborhood, and my book with a variety of media outlets. If you want to catch up with them, now is your chance!

I visited the show Good Morning Charlotte at the Fox affiliate in Charlotte, North Carolina; I walked in just minutes before I went on the air (traffic was hopelessly snarled in the pre-dawn rain), but they just clipped a mic on me and shoved me onto the set. You can see the result on the Fox 46 website.

I’ve also done dozens of radio interviews recently, including with 550 KTRS in St. Louis, and most notably an hour-long conversation on “Charlotte Talks, ” hosted by Mike Collins on WFAE (Charlotte’s NPR affiliate), that also included Maxwell King, author of The Good Neighbor.

And The Hasty Book List website, which dubbed Kindness and Wonder a “must-read,” conducted an email interview with me that you can find here.

posted 4 November 2019 in Outside. no comments yet

Kindness and Wonder: Out Now!

I am pleased to inform you that this week marks the publication of Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever.

If you’d like to buy a copy (which I recommend), this HarperCollins site can send you to your preferred retailer (including your local indie bookstore).

If you don’t trust me–after all, I wrote the book and I’m hardly objective, am I?—you might be interested in what some other people think about the book.

“[I]n Kindness and Wonder, Edwards fuses his reporter’s investigative and narrative ability with his vast interest in popular culture’s long shadow to tell a tale that is both gentle and wonderful, in a manner befitting its subject,” Cory Doctorow wrote at BoingBoing. “This is such a sweet and gentle and loving book; many times it brought tears to my eyes, and many more times it made me smile.”

USA Today named it one of their “five books not to miss” for this week, alongside Prince and Lee Child. Barbara VanDenburgh wrote, “This book pays tribute to the man who helped raise so many of us, and argues the case that his wisdom is more essential than ever.”

The BookTrib website dubbed it “fascinating” and said, “Looking back at the history of the show and the creative visionary behind it, pop culture aficionado Edwards reminds us of the indelible lessons and insights that Mister Rogers conveyed—what it means to be a good person, to be open-hearted, to be thoughtful, to be curious, to be compassionate—and why they matter.”

And my dear friend Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote in Salon, “One half biography, one half practical guide to life, Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever reads like a balm to the anxious soul. It’s a reminder of the courage that it takes to be decent, and a call to find the good neighbor inside all of us.” She also called me up to interview me about the book and why I wrote it: you can read the resulting conversation here.

posted 30 October 2019 in Buy My Stuff. no comments yet

Kindness and Wonder: News and Tour

Hello neighbor! I am extremely excited because my next book, Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever, is being published one week from today by Dey St., on October 29. I wanted to share another early review, from the good people at Library Journal: “This engaging, perceptive narrative examines the show, its popularity, its long-term cultural impact, and the criticisms it received when it was broadcast,” Carol J. Binkowski writes. “All readers will find inspiration in this uplifting book, particularly in today’s complex world.”

And I will be doing a few readings and signings for the book the first week it’s out! I may add some more appearances, but for the time being I’ll be staying close to home: that means that if you live in North Carolina, you’re in luck.

Tuesday, October 29 (7 pm) / Greensboro

Scuppernong Books: 304 S Elm St., Greensboro, NC 27401. 336-763-1919. scuppernongbooks@gmail.com

Wednesday, October 30 (7 pm) / Charlotte

Park Road Books: 4139 Park Rd., Charlotte, NC 28209. 704-525-9239. books@parkroadbooks.com

Sunday, November 3 (2 pm) / Davidson

Main Street Books: 126 S Main St., Davidson, NC 28036. 704-892-6841.

If you are nowhere near North Carolina and you’d really love a signed copy of Kindness and Wonder, I suggest calling up one of the above three bookstores before my signing and asking if you can purchase a book to be signed and/or inscribed by me and then have the store ship it to you. My guess is that they’d be delighted to help you out.

And if you are in North Carolina, I hope to see you at one (or more) of those events! Come say howdy (and bring along everyone you know)!

posted 22 October 2019 in Buy My Stuff, News. no comments yet